Choose Energy Efficient Appliances
Focusing on energy efficiency when you choose your appliances is not only good for the environment, but also great for your budget. The less energy you waste, the less energy you pay for!
Big gains can be seen from replacing major appliances like refrigerators and furnaces, but the small things add up too! Don’t forget details like light fixtures, lightbulbs, faucets, toilets, and shower heads. These are still things we use on a daily basis, use of which can add up to a costly difference when not utilizing efficient options.
In addition to the savings to the energy bill that come from using green appliances, there are also often rebates available from both the government and the utility companies for purchasing green appliances.
Notoriously, material costs for a remodel can get very high very quickly if you’re not careful. A great way to cut down on these costs is to use repurposed materials. If you like the vintage or antique look, you may find that you prefer the appearance of repurposed lumber in hardwood floors. A fireplace with new, modern appointments, and fresh, cleanly built lines, but faded, repurposed bricks can also be extremely charming. You may find other purposes for recycled materials in benches, bookshelves, window seats, cabinet doors, chimneys, siding, garden paving, and many more!
You can of course repurpose materials from your own demolition as well. However, if your goal is to completely makeover the look of your space, you may be unlikely to want to reuse many of the same materials that were used before. However, that doesn’t mean that others wouldn’t be able to use that material. Help others repurpose the usable parts from your demolition by taking them to a salvage yard or utilizing your local Craigslist free section or Freecycle. You may find yourself surprised by others desire to utilize what you might have viewed as trash.
Use Sustainable Materials
Repurposed materials won’t be for everyone. But you can still make sure that the new products you purchase have a lower impact on the environment than most. Flooring made from linoleum, cork, or bamboo provides a significantly more sustainable alternative than traditional hardwood.
Traditional hardwood trees can’t be harvested until 25-50 years after planting, and doing so kills the tree. However, bamboo can be harvested every 3-6 years, and cork every 9-12 years. In both these cases, harvesting does not kill the host plant, it will regrow on its own.
For cabinets, cork may be a bit soft. However, bamboo is again an excellent choice. If you must have traditional hardwood for your cabinets, look for something certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which will indicate that it was grown using more responsible forest-management methods.
For countertops, there are many sustainable options available. If you like the look and feel of stone, quartz or paperstone is a much better option than granite. Quartz is a man-made stone, and paperstone is a product made from recycled paper and resin which combine to form a durable and attractive material that resembles the look and feel of stone. You can also get beautiful countertops made of wood, recycled glass, stainless steel, laminate, and more.
Looking at the manufacturing process of your new countertop is also a good idea. Aside from the environmental difference that comes from using non-toxic materials, most people would strongly prefer that the food for themselves and their family be prepared on a surface that wasn’t finished with formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals.
Use Healthy Materials
Focusing on the type of materials used in your project not only reduces the number of toxins you add to the environment, but also reduces the number of toxins being released in your home and absorbed by you and your family. Non-VOC paint is one of the first things you should look for when considering eco-friendly construction materials.
No modern paint contains lead. However, many do still contain VOCs, which stands for volatile organic compounds. These are unstable carbon-based compounds that are released rapidly into the air from wet and drying paint. These can cause breathing problems and other health issues for those living in the home, not just shortly after painting, but over time as paint chips and makes its way into the dust in the air.
Insulation made from soy or cotton provides a natural, sustainable option with significantly fewer toxins than common synthetic alternatives. For things like laminates, sealants, and varnishes, eco-friendly options can also usually be found. Working with a contractor who is knowledgeable about these materials can be extremely helpful in tracking down the safest options.
Eco Friendly Landscaping
Often we don’t spend much time thinking about how to green our outdoor areas. Isn’t the outside already green? Unfortunately, not when humans carelessly have their way with it. Common landscaping trends tend to be very wasteful in the way they use water. Some smart planning in this area can lead to huge savings on water bills over time.
One of the best things you can do to ensure your outdoor areas are friendly to the environment around them, is to choose plants native to the area. Here in the Chicago area, we have a wide variety of beautiful prairie plants and grasses that thrive in local ecosystems. When a garden or outdoor area is filled with these plants, and care is given to water retention in its setup, you can create a beautiful outdoor space that requires no additional watering beyond natural rainfall.
In addition to saving on water, setting up your landscaping intelligently can also save energy by helping to regulate the temperature in your home. Strategically placing trees around your home to create shade and wind breaks can help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Another great way to multi-purpose plants in your yard is to plant vegetation that produces food. The Midwest has a great climate for growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Apples, berries, stone-fruits, cabbage, potatoes, corn, squash, and many more thrive here! Growing your own food not only saves costs, but is great for the environment as it cuts down on fossil fuels being used to transport produce across the country as well as the harsh pesticides and herbicides used on commercial food crops.